Book Review: Derelict Paradise by Daniel Kerr

By Tanya Goff

        Homelessness is not an easy issue, and Derelict Paradise, by Daniel Kerr, is not an easy book to read.  If you are looking for light reading to take to the pool this summer, Derelict Paradise is not the right choice for you.

       If, however, you wish to learn more about the institution of homelessness in the city of Cleveland, and how homelessness came to be institutionalized, than this is the book for you.

     Starting with the railroad strikes of 1877, Kerr takes the reader through the intricacies of low income and homeless life in Cleveland through the years.  Of note are Kerr’s retelling of City Manager Daniel Morgan’s war on panhandling in 1931, and the resurrection of this war by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance in the 2000s.  Kerr revisits the roots of the Hough Rebellion of 1966, and doesn’t sugar coat the details, no matter how painful the details may be.

       The story of Camelot was especially interesting to me, as I know some of the major characters in this event.  I remember the hope that Eduardo Lauriano and Pam Wagner had for saving this important piece of Cleveland history.  For a moment in time, many of us hoped against hope that finally something positive would happen for the homeless community living in Camelot, but then our hopes along with those of Eduardo, Pam, and the other people living there, were crushed as the City of Cleveland brought the wrecking ball and tore down their home.

            Derelict Paradise relies heavily on painstaking research into the records and archives of Cleveland, as well as in person interviews with the key players in the homeless and homeless advocate community currently.  Throughout this work, Kerr endeavors to answer the question he poses in the conclusion, “who benefits from institutionalized homelessness?”  He works hard to show the reader the answer to this question.  The answers aren’t easy, but then, neither is homelessness.

    Editor’s Note:  To find this book you can call 1-800-537-5487 or go to the University of Massachusetts website.  ISBN 987-1-55849-849-5.

      Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published July 2011 Cleveland, Ohio

Brad Paisley’s Water World

By: Luke Drotar

            I don’t know if any of you saw us or our dunk tank, but on Saturday, June 11th, before the Brad Paisley concert, NEOCH staff and volunteers were given the opportunity to raise funds for our organization and the Cleveland Street Chronicle at the Brad Paisley Water World Experience which took place in between Progressive Field and The Q.  It turned out to be a beautiful day; we had a blast!  We raised $222 that will be split evenly between NEOCH and the Cleveland Street Chronicle.

         Personally I need to thank Sunny Nixon for connecting us with this opportunity, Kari Kuefler for penciling us in and coordinating such a thrilling event, and Diana Cyganovich and her Cogswell Hall volunteers for splitting their sign and dunk tank time with us.  I also need to thank NEOCH’s two brave volunteers who nerve-rackingly sat suspended above that dirty water, waiting for that special someone to throw a strike: Seth Hrbek and Drew Crampton.  We of course couldn’t have pulled it off without our smooth operator, Brooke Monea, who as front-of-house kept on-lock all things related to transactions and apron money; thanks!  And you know that I’ve got to show some love for your very own Cleveland Street Chronicle vendor Buzzy Bryant for his help deftly managing the manic ball throwing and collecting process.  You are one cool hand!

          But I especially want to thank Cleveland country fans for coming out and supporting us by helping ‘splash away homelessness’.  Just because you were on your way to a really fun concert didn’t preclude you from stopping for a second to listen to our spiel about homelessness.  Your generosity of attention spoke volumes about your character.  It also helped make this issue that you hold in your hands possible.  Thank you!

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published spring 2011

Cleveland Youth Testify to Human Rights Violations Fault Community, Teachers, Themselves for Not Doing More

By: Luke Drotar

             On Saturday, May 21st, Clevelanders young and less-young gathered at Trinity Commons (2230 Euclid Ave.) for a frank talk about the truth of what it’s like growing up in Cleveland.  Teenagers of all stripes stepped up to testify at the Youth Truth Commission about what they felt were the worst injustices that they experienced daily.  Truth commissioners Lawrence Stallworth of CWRU, Tom Mendelsohn of the Empowerment Center, Shaniqua Jackson of PPNEO Triple T, and Luke Drotar of NEOCH received their testimony.  The event was coordinated by United Clevelanders Against Poverty.

            Truth commissions are non-judicial, independent panels that investigate and tell the truth about violations of human rights.  Their purpose is to educate and organize communities.  The commission creates a space where the community can come to learn from one another’s experiences in an organized forum and then think collectively about concrete ways to pursue solutions to preventable problems.  They were famously used in South Africa to tell the truth about apartheid and rally people together around the idea of democracy.  They’ve also been used extensively in Latin America as well as in other African countries.

         Cleveland has hosted successful truth commissions in the past; most notably in summer of 2006 when The Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign sponsored a national truth commission here.  1,000 people came to Cleveland from 32 states to put poverty on trial through testimonies exposing violations of our economic human rights.

         The Youth Truth Commission assumed a unique gravity due to the circumstances of 2011 that have dramatically impacted and will continue to dramatically impact Cleveland’s youth.  These factors include the new County Administration, the new CEO for the Cleveland Municipal School District, the targeting of East Side public schools for closure, deep city and state budget cuts, and youth unemployment at its highest level since recordkeeping began, among others.

        Teens would walk up to the stage, stand behind the podium, face the crowd, and testify to the need for access to a quality education, for access to adequate sexual health education, for the right to feel safe in school and community, and for the right to shelter for those who need it.  The following paragraphs group and summarize their testimony by subject matter.

        As evidence of a violation of Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, testimony was received alleging an inadequate state of education for the youth of Cleveland.  The noisy and distracting environment in classrooms was cited as one cause.  It was testified that instruction was also to blame; that although some teachers care, some do not, and others are pushovers; this situation causes teachers and then students to give up, and/or the other way around.  It was added that the dress code also stops some from attending school.

        The lack of accurate sexual health education was oft referenced as an injustice.  The teens said that many people don’t know what to do about their sexual health due to either a lack of instruction and open discussion with their teachers about the topic or due to a strict abstinence-only curriculum.  Their testimony described abstinence-only programs as ‘a waste of time and government money’; that it’s hard for them to reconcile their natural instincts, social pressures, and a dearth of role models by simply saying no.  For these reasons, they explained, so many teenagers, who are still kids themselves, are already taking care of their own children.  The teens proffered curriculum ideas that weren’t just sex and condom-related tips either; they expressed an earnest craving for advice about how to have a good relationship, and for advice and strategies about how to ‘slow things down’ and why.  The commissioners characterized their allegations as evidence of a violation of Articles 26 and 29 of the Declaration.

         The right to feel safe in school was also a hot topic.  The students cited the need for additional and more serious security guards, ones that are on the job at all times and not joking around with the kids.  But blame for safety was not simply lumped onto security guards; the students also described a culture of fear in schools where kids will not talk to a teacher or police officer even if they feel like they’re in immediate danger.  It is fair to describe the rest of their testimony as the following plea to fellow students: speak out if you see something wrong, there are too many kids missing school because of ‘sickness’ (being scared of a bully) and then failing the OGTs as a result; speak out, too many teens have ‘already left this earth’ because we didn’t stand up to the violence when we were needed.  The commissioners couldn’t come to a consensus on how many different Articles these testimonies evidenced a violation of.

          Inadequate access to shelter for homeless and runaway youth was alleged in two separate youth testimonies that day.  One teenager pointed out that new juvenile detention centers are being built, but that no new youth shelters are, and how that sends a message and sets up an expectation for their generation and the generation that will follow.  The other witness to the state of youth shelters stated that there are only two youth shelters in the Cleveland area, one of which is in Berea, and that neither are located anywhere near East Cleveland where there is the greatest need for youth refuge.  The commissioners agreed that their testimony on inadequate access to youth shelter evidenced a violation of Article 25, though perhaps of others as well.

           The Youth Truth Commission was informative, empowering, and cathartic.  To see teenagers come together and stand up passionately and be heard like they did that bright afternoon flies in the face of every stereotype about apathetic young people I hear every day from political cynics, rationalizing do-nothings, and phony know-it-alls.  I’m happy to report that you should feel free to follow with confidence that voice in your head that’s always advised you to pay no mind to that consistently naysayer friend or relative of yours.  You know the one I’m talking about.

     Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio

Help is Not Always Given Where Help is Needed

By Kim “Supermutt” Goodman

Commentary

             Nonprofit organizations and churches have a goal of helping those who are in need.  Their service and hearts are in the right place but they don’t always help everyone who needs help.  Many places offer opportunities for people to get their GED, help with higher education, help with job training and job placement, and help with housing and more.  This is good for people who are mentally able to accept this type of help.

             There are many success stories where people dropped out of school, got their GED and went to college, or went to a job-training center and found a job.  There have been people who became addicted to drugs or alcohol and were helped through a rehab program.  There have also been people with mental illnesses who entered the Mental Health Service system and were successful with it.  But not all homeless people find success with the services that are offered.

            Many people joined the military as young adults and made a career of it.  They served their country and fought wars.  Some lost body parts, injured themselves and experienced things that caused them to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Then after they retired from all the stress, they came home to suffer more.

             Many veterans struggle to find housing and assistance for their needs.  There are too many veterans and not enough services for them.  Many are not physically or mentally able to get or keep a job so they end up on the street.  Some veterans have a hard time dealing with life.  The flashbacks from their military experiences along with facing the reality of not being able to live a comfortable life cause them more stress.  Many turn to alcohol or drugs to ease their suffering and a few turn to suicide.

            Another group of people who suffer are children who were involved in the foster care system.  Many of these children were wither taken from their birth parents and placed in a children’s home or went from foster home to foster home until their 18th birthday.  Once children turn 18 they are considered legal adults and are kicked out onto the streets to fend for themselves.

            Those who are mentally able will usually go to Job Corps, a college with a dorm, or join the military to avoid the streets. But there are some who are unable to succeed at this because they have learning disabilities, mental illness or developmental delays that limit them.

            Children who were abused and neglected in their homes by their parents and/or family often run away from home at a young age or stay until their parents or family kick them out. Many abused and neglected kids have undetected learning disabilities, development disabilities, mental illnesses or emotional disturbances.  Many times they have some of the same feelings as those who were in the foster care system.

             Both groups feel unlovable because they didn’t have the love of their parents or any special family member.  Many feel unwanted because they were abused and/or neglected or passed around a lot.  Many also feel inferior to those who have family who are there for them.  They believe that the person with a family must be more loveable than they are because their family is there for them while no one cares enough to be there for them.  Some may even wonder if they did something wrong to cause the abuse and/or neglect.  Due to the abuse, neglect or abandonment many lack self-esteem and self-confidence.  No one has taken the time to tell the person what is good about them.

             Many feel emptiness in their heart because they have a lifetime of love to give and share but no one to share it with or they don’t know how to share it.  Most are confused and frustrated because no one has taken the time to teach them the things they need to know to be successful.  Now they are out in the world, uneducated about life, and expected to function as if they were properly educated.

             It is hard for some people to succeed at getting their GED, a college degree or a job if they lack confidence in themselves.  If you really think about it, the most successful people have a strong support system that stands behind them and has their backs.

            There are people with mental illness who become part of the Mental Health Services system and get on SSI and get off the streets.  The person is assigned a case manager who becomes their representative payee, and then uses the individual’s check from the government to pay the rent, bills, and provide a weekly allowance to the disabled individual.  This works for some people but not for all.  Some people are aware that they are not capable of managing their own money but they aren’t given the chance to see if they are good at money management or even offered classes on money management.  Some people feel degraded by having someone in control of their lives, and would rather live on the street than in a place of their own being treated like a child.  Some people put up with it but become more depressed because they feel inferior to their peers who live independently and manage their own finances.

            Some people get their own place but have a hard time dealing with it.  T them home might make them more frustrated or depressed because they were never taught how to maintain a home properly.  The task of cooking, cleaning and organizing a home is easy for some but not for all.  Some people feel alone in their own place feel more at home on the street. On the street there is always someone around for them to interact with but at home it is just them.  Most don’t have a caring family member to drop by for a visit and some lack the social skills they need to make and keep a friend or mate,

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Facts on Homelessness and Poverty in the USA

 

Percent of Americans who think the federal government has too much power : 58

That lobbyists, major corporations, banks & financial institutions, respectively, do (Gallup) : 71, 67, 67

Estimated FY ’10 cost to the U.S. of the mortgage interest deduction/tax expenditure (Tax Policy Center) : $131,000,000,000

Percent of this cost that will be written off by individuals making more than $100,000 (WRAP) : 75

Amount of FY ’09 federal appropriations to targeted programs serving all homeless persons : $4,799,000,000

Amount exclusively earmarked for homeless families with children (ICPH) : $0

Cost of all 2008 HUD Homeless Assistance Grants : $1,440,000,000

Cost of one San Antonio Class Amphibious Assault Ship : $1,582,000,000

Cost of all 2008 public housing operating expenses : $4,113,000,000

Cost of one Zumwalt Class Destroyer (WRAP) : $4,127,000,000

Amount of federal money that went to NPR in 2010 (NPR) : $2,700,000

To Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (U.S. Dept. of Ed.) : $446,000,000

Date on which U.S. student-loan debt is expected to reach $1,000,000,000,000 : 12/1/2011

Chance that an American who earned a B.A. in 2008 will be paying off student loans in 2028 (FinAid) : 1 in 3

Chance that a U.S. job created last year was in a low-wage industry (Nat’l Employment Law Project) : 1 in 2

Percent change in U.S. labor productivity since 1972 : +114

Percent change in wages during that same period (Robert Pollin) : –6

Percent of residents at 2100 Lakeside, a 350-bed men’s shelter in Cleveland, who work (LMM) : 73

Percent of Americans in 2009 who believed the free market “is the best system on which to base the future of the world” : 74

Percent of Americans who believe so today (GlobeScan Inc.) : 59

Percentage of private-sector workers with pension plans in 1979 whose plans were defined-benefit : 62

Today (Employment Benefit Research Inst.) : 7

Average salary difference in 1970 between a starting New York public school teacher & a first-year private lawyer (McKinsey & Co.) : $2,000

Difference today (Nat’l Assn. for Law Placement) : $106,000

Age of the youngest person facing life without parole in the United States (Amnesty Int’l) : 13

Percent of jail inmates who had been homeless in the year prior to their incarceration : 15

Percent of people experiencing homelessness who report time spent in a correctional facility at some point in their lives (NHCHC) : 54

 Percent of fifth-degree felony offenders who are diverted to probation instead of prison in Franklin County & Cuyahoga County, respectively (Justice Center) : 82,66

 Percent higher pay that a Cleveland police officer will receive to appear in a felony case, officers aren’t required to appear for in a misdemeanor case (Mona Lynch) : 50

 Percent more likely that a white offender from suburban or out-of-town areas received a reduced misdemeanor charge as compared to an African-American Clevelander (John Kroll) : 77

 Chances that a convict will be granted parole if his case comes up right after a judge has had breakfast : 7 in 10

Chance right before lunch (Jonathan Levav) : 1 in 4

Percent change in domestic violence when the local NFL team unexpectedly loses a game : +10

When it loses to a traditional rival (Gordon Dahl) : +20

Percent of homeless women who have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives (Browne & Bassuk) : 92

 Chance that a hotline caller has experienced birth control sabotage & reproductive coercion (Nat’l Domestic Violence Hotline) : 1 in 4

 Number of babies born to mothers living in domestic violence shelters on September 15, 2010 (NNEDV) : 36

 Chance that an American teen suffers from a severe emotional or behavioral disorder (NIMH) : 1 in 5

 Percent by which an American is more likely than a non-American to suffer from bipolar disorder (NIMH) : 100

Recovery rate for individuals who receive treatment & medication for bipolar disorder, addiction, & cancer, respectively (ADAMHS) : 80%, 70%, 68%

Chance that an Ohioan is impacted by a friend or family member with a mental illness or addiction : 2 in 3

Percent by which murder-suicides have increased since 2000 (OACBHA) : 300

Confirmed number of terrorist plots against the United States perpetrated by Muslims in 2010: 10

By non-Muslims (Muslim Public Affairs Council) : 25

Rank of 2010 among the deadliest years for Afghan civilians since the war began (UN) : 1

May unemployment rate for recent male veterans, of OEF & OIF (U.S. Dept. of Labor) : 12.9

Estimated number of veterans in prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics) : 140,000

Number of Ohio’s 41 Vietnam Veterans of America chapters that consist entirely of incarcerated veterans (Tom Burke) : 9

Approximate annual cost to the Buffalo taxpayer to hold one county prisoner : $32,000

Approximate annual cost of one participant in Buffalo’s Veterans Court, a prison diversion & rehab program : $7,000

Rate of recidivism of participants in Buffalo’s Veterans Court (Judge Robert Russell/Reuters) : 0

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio    

One Home, One Vote: The Real Voter Fraud Issue in Ohio

By Brett Pransky

Commentary

            In any responsible study of American history, we find ourselves inspired by the heroism and goodness of generations past, but also at times ashamed of acts, policies, and laws that we now understand to be oppressive or unfair.  As time passes, we identify and then move away from repression and disenfranchisement and move toward equality and fair treatment for all.  This progress is perhaps best demonstrated by our right to vote.  At one time, only white male landowners could vote.  Now, everyone enjoys that right …for the moment, at least. 

            In recent months, under a smokescreen of voter fraud allegations, Ohio legislators have been attempting o turn back the clock on Ohio’s voting practices with a series of proposed new laws.  The proposed legislation would severely restrict early voting, add technicalities that are intended to invalidate thousands of presently legal votes, and for a final, we get House Bill 159 – a voter ID measure designed to keep as many as 900,000 Ohio voters away from the polls.  Editor’s Note:  Voting reform was passed and signed into law, but the ID provisions were pulled and will be voted on in the fall of 2011.

            The voter ID bill requires a picture ID at the polls.  Right now, registered voters can vote using many different kinds of proof of residence.  Many vote using utility bills to establish residence.  Many voters also take advantage of the current 35 day early voting period; if the new bills pass, those days could be trimmed to as few as six, though recent negotiations put the new number at about 16, which is still less than half o=the number of days currently allowed.

             When the creators of the legislation were asked to provide evidence of the kind of voter fraud they are trying to stop, no examples were given; however HB 159 sponsors and states Rep. Bob Mecklenborg ( R ) responded by saying “I believe it happens,” and “it’s impossible o prove (That it doesn’t happen).” Needless to say, the bills’ opponents have been less than impressed with Meckleborg’s undying faith in the existence of a fictional epidemic of voter fraud, and do not find any comfort in his inability “to prove a negative.”  However, it appears that the specter of fraud and a bit of faulty logic is all we really need to create law in Ohio, so the bills stand a very good chance of becoming the law of the land.

             However, the real danger of these proposals is not the required photo ID card or the inconvenience brought about by the lack of early voting.  The real crime is what’s behind the proposals.  The real crime lies not in the text, nor in the political power wrangling that motivates people to pursue these kinds of sill laws; it is in what happens to those who don’t get to vote because those in power want to keep votes from going to their opposition.  This has nothing to do with voter fraud.  This is about power and how it can be maintained, and the proof of this is in the numbers.

             Roughly 11% of US citizens (about 30 million people) do not have a government issued photo ID.  While estimates in Ohio vary a bit, most put the number of registered voters likely to be without a photo ID about 887,000.  The groups most likely to be without a photo ID include racial minorities (including 255 of African Americans nationwide), students, the working poor (15% of voters with income lower that $35,000/year), large numbers of elderly people (18% of voters over he age of 65 nationwide), and the homeless.  The writers and sponsors of this proposed legislation are certainly aware of these numbers, and of the group most likely to be negatively affected by their proposals.  All the spooky “voter fraud” talk in the world isn’t going to hide the fact that certain people in power simply don’t want these groups to vote.  It’s a poll tax, ladies and gentlemen, and Jim Crow has officially arrived in Columbus.

             For many, and certainly for Ohio’s homeless population, the combination of fewer early voting days and the addition of a required photo ID card would make the voting process significantly more difficult than ever before.  While shelter staff and concerned citizen volunteers used to have 35 days to gather people together and help them get to the polls, now they are faced with the possibility of as few as six or sixteen days of early voting, making that task much more difficult.  And not, if the new voter ID legislation passes (and it has already passed the House) those who advocate for the and assist Ohio’s poorest citizens (and also its elderly population) will have to find a way to deal with another step in the process, and they’ll have to-do twice as much in less than half the number of days.

             Perhaps the most accurate way to assess the value of proposals like these is to imagine them at their best, and at their worst.  These laws, show they become laws, are at their very best a way to solve a problem than the simply don’t have in the first place.  There simply don’t have in the first place.  There is little to no evidence that the problem actually exists, or will exist.  However, at their worst, these laws are painstakingly designed to limit a voting rights of a very specific and carefully chosen subset of the voting public by making money and mobility perquisites for citizenship.  They are meant to further silence people who are already shouted down time and again by power and privilege.  They turn poor and elderly people into quiet people, and they turn the homeless into the voiceless.  Given these options, the voters restrictions proposed are either useless, discretionary, or both.  That leaves us with a serious and immediate question for our state representatives, particularly for those show support or sponsor these bills.  Why are you pushing so hard to make them laws?  Who are you afraid of?

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Lady on the Pink Sparkle Bike

By: Holly Lyon

Late in the morning on a cool day at the end of May I find myself visiting with Karen (name changed) at her apartment.  It has been a crazy morning so far; I overslept, have a terrible headache and was stuck in traffic on my way to work.  While I normally enjoy chatting with Karen at the monthly Homeless Congress meeting we both attend, I find myself annoyed that I am not in a more gregarious mood.  Karen meets me in the lobby of her building; she is in her typical affable mood and I start to feel a sense of relief about the interview.  She tells me about getting her bike fixed, a mountain bike that she has cleverly covered with plastic hot pink rhinestones. With a light pink basket attached to the front, I adore the decor. 

 We walk up to her apartment but before we enter she tells me not to be afraid of her pet turtle.  The turtle looks fairly large as it rests in the corner of her small kitchen.  She leads me into the living room. The three room apartment has a great vibe: the walls are light purple, the decorations are eclectic and lovely, there is a Ramones poster above the couch, a string of soft white lights are strung along the wall, half-burned candles are here and there.  I see an antique-looking porcelain bust in the other room. I am standing on a myriad of mismatched rugs that cover her floor; they all seem to go together.  It is the type of apartment I envisioned having after I graduated college but, unlike Karen, I do not have the discipline required, my walls are bare and beige.  

 I start the interview with mundane questions: where are you from, do you have family, how long were you homeless?  Karen is from Akron, she was married for 16 years, her husband is deceased, and she no longer has any family in the area except her daughter living in the state of Ohio.  She holds a master’s degree in art.  She has two teenage children.  She served 6 months in prison five years ago.  She has worked in artistic venues and at various cafes in Cleveland.  She has struggled with addiction since high school, a fact she speaks openly and candidly about.  She did not live in Cleveland proper before becoming homeless; she lived the bulk of her married life in Cleveland suburbs.  She tells me she is in her 40s and I am in a bit of disbelief, she easily looks ten years younger.  She is a petite woman to say the least; she is only about five feet tall and has the build of a yoga fanatic, her short brown punky hairstyle melds well with her black square frame glasses. 

 Her husband was a publisher as well as a drug addict; he died of an overdose in 2009.  When I ask if the relationship was tumultuous, her expression changes subtly; although I cannot quite articulate how, I know I am getting to the tougher topics.  She proceeds to tell me about her abusive marriage.  She said they both used drugs, although she did have episodes of sobriety.  She describes a life of isolation and mental and physical violence that drastically altered her creative spirit.  When she first met her husband, she was enticed by his interest in her art.  She helped him a great deal with his magazine work by creating art or writing food pieces and general editing.  However, after they had settled nicely into suburbia, things changed.  He worked from home and Karen’s life became controlled by him.  She was not permitted to go shopping for food by herself.  She describes days spent in their basement where she tried to work on her art.  She said in those 16 years she had many jobs that only lasted a few months.  It was not uncommon for her husband to cause her to get fired by creating a scene at her place of employment.  She relays how humiliating it was, and I can see by her expression how hard it is for her to recall those experiences.

 I ask Karen about her time in the shelter, about the other women and their experience with domestic violence.  She says that it’s a very common theme of the residents’ stories.  She discusses how hard it is to leave an abuser because the abuse becomes normal.  As a homeless advocate I know that an overwhelming number of homeless women encounter some form of abuse in their lifetime.  She states that while shelter can be depressing, you do develop community with the other women which can help with an addiction, with getting past an abuser, and with regaining a sense of self-worth.  Karen was homeless for about six months.  I ask her whether her first experience with shelter was frightening.  She says that although her incarceration had been more of an initial shock, both were culture shocks.  She comments that there are some parallels with prison and shelter life but does not delve deeply into the details.  She says that prison was less stressful and less violent than her home; she also reflects positively on being the prison librarian.

I ask her about life after prison.  Karen talks about how her husband used to taunt her about her prison stay and threaten that he’d use it to take the children away from her.  Her children were both aware of the drug use by their parents, although she did not know it at the time.  After her husband passed away, she and her children moved to another suburb and a friend of hers moved in with them.  Her friend was selling drugs from her home.  This resulted in the loss of Karen’s two children, her job, and her home, as well as a stay in rehab.  This was her final step before entering the shelter.

 Now sober, housed and actively receiving treatment, Karen has begun working on art again.  She aspires to earn an additional master’s in art therapy.  Her relationship with her children is on the mend and for the first time she feels a sense of peace and freedom that addiction and abusive relationships never afforded her.  She says that for a while she did not think she had anything to offer her children.  She knows she put them through a lot.  She talks about them being a “bounced around a lot” and how their mother’s the homeless lady on a pink sparkle bike, but also that she has realized that they do need and love her.  In the future Karen hopes to gain enough stability in her life to provide a home for her children so that they can have somewhere to go if they are in need of some help.  She is aware that she has a ways to go and admits that she is afraid, but she is using the various “safety nets” provided to her that will help her get through the remainder of her journey.  As we wrap up our conversation, I have no doubt she will reach her goals.

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio

Voting Changes Will Only Limit Access to the Ballot Box

By Brian Davis

News Analysis

            At the very end of the Ohio budgetary year, in a party line vote, the Ohio legislature passed a reform of voting law to prepare for the 2012 Presidential election.  In the fall it is expected that a narrowing of the identification that will be accepted at the polling places will also be approved by the legislature.  I have to wonder if the medicine that they are prescribing is worse than the problem that they are trying to cure.  How many elderly, homeless, students and low-income individuals will find it harder to vote in order to address perceived voter fraud that no one can prove actually exists?  Why are we limiting access to the ballot boxes with shorter early voting, potentially mandatory identification requirements, and handcuffing the ability for Boards of Elections to reach out to local voters?

             We care about this issue because voting is the cornerstone of our democracy.  Hundreds of thousands died so that we had the right to vote, and then thousands more died to get African Americans, women, those who cannot read, and those without land or money to have equal access to the polling place.  Cincinnati legislator Bob Mecklenborg and other GOP leaders told the Plain Dealer earlier this year they believe voter fraud is going on unreported.  Representative Mechlenborg said to the Plain Dealer, “I believe it happens, but it’s proving a negative.  It is impossible to prove a negative.”  It is amazing to me that Ohio legislators are passing legislation over perceived fraud in voting, but were never willing to pass laws to stop real fraud in the mortgage industry.  Election experts testified that there is very little proof of any fraud within the system during State House hearings.  Most of the fraud occurs in the registration process and submission of multiple votes by mail.

             I have to wonder if these same legislators would object if the federal government passed a law that Censes workers could search the bedrooms of residents of Ohio to assure that everyone was counted in the constitutionally mandated Census.  There is no doubt that many people did not answer the Census, but the harm caused by invading people’s privacy is not worth the additional data collected.

             There is no provision in the law or additional resources to verify the registration is accurate and not a duplicate registration.  There is no requirement that every registration is checked against death records and that every social security number is verified.  This is the point at which fraud occurs.  The law that was passed and the one that was proposed only suppress votes from minority and impoverished communities.  It is a cynical attempt to keep down turnout for a population that traditionally votes for Democrats.

             The problem is that not all minority members are Democrats; not all poor people are Democrats, and certainly not all elderly are Democrates.  This type of voter suppression game is what turns off voters and makes citizens skeptical that government has any ability to do anything.  An elderly Reagan Republican grandfather who voted in the same location for the past 30 years and no longer drives but in 2012 will have to show a state ID or vote with a provisional ballot will understand that this has nothing to do with fraud or security.  The Ken Blackwell African American churchgoer from the East Side of Cleveland who took buses and vans down to the Board of Elections after services to cast a historical vote for the first major party African American for President in 2008 will understand that they will no longer be able to vote on Sunday in 2012.

            Efforts to suppress voters in the United States will backfire.  This will only lead to resentment and hostility toward government.  We need to make sure that real fraud is minimized, but our legislators should be working toward universal participation in the electoral process.

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio